The Neo-Colonialism of Animal Rights in India


For centuries, Jallikattu’s cultural reverberations have gone far beyond current definitions of the event – a sacred rite of passage with characteristics of folk craft, ritual, festival and sport, integral to animal husbandry and tradition, providing millions of farmers with entertainment, connection to the sacred and a profound sense of cultural belonging. Unsurprisingly, massive protests rocked Tamil Nadu after the Nagaraja case banned Jallikattu, filed by PETA, the ‘animal rights’ organisation. The Judgement seemed to suggest that ‘Right to life’ under Article 21 applicable to citizens, also applied to animals and implied that Jallikattu was a brutal non-tradition that served no purpose except people inflicting cruelty on bulls.

Similarly, across the global south there exist numerous attempts by animal rights organisations via court cases, to give animals ‘personhood’ or the same rights applicable to people including in India where this judgement recognised animals as ‘legal entities’, this judgement gave ‘fundamental rights’ to rivers and this judgement claimed cattle had the ‘right’ to mate.

The precedents set by these rulings affect policy profoundly and the ‘global south’ is the focus of many animal rights groups to affect this agenda.

‘Animal rights’ is very different from ‘animal welfare’ that allows for usage of animals, including killing them for food etc. Animal welfare is against ‘unnecessary’ cruelty, not ‘necessary’ suffering caused in the upholding of human rights and objectives. For example: a vegetable field causes death and displacement of small wildlife at genocide levels, or ‘necessary’ suffering in the upholding of human rights. Contrarily, Animal rights, propagated by Peter Singer, called “the most dangerous man in the world”, calls for abolishing all usage of animals, ‘animal liberation’ and ‘equal’ consideration for humans and animals, statements that sound benevolent but warrant deeper attention.

Singer’s philosophy supports human infanticide, believes human life is not necessarily more sacred than an animal’s and that it could be better to medically experiment on children over rats.

“Rights” imply a relationship of reciprocity (your rights are my responsibility and vice versa). Philosopher Carl Cohen hypothesised that an animal cannot be given rights as rights arise only among human beings who possess attributes that allow them to make moral claims against one another, including the ability to understand ethical principles, guide one’s actions accordingly and have capacity to comprehend rules of duty governing all including themselves, the holders of rights recognising possible conflicts between what’s in their own interest and what’s just. Humans have such moral capabilities. Animals do not.

Nagaraja-like judgements do not make it far in the global north and for good reason. The NY supreme court stated a zoo elephant could not be legally considered a ‘person’ in a case filed by the ‘Non Humans Rights Organisation,’ significantly active in India. The court mentioned that extending human rights to an elephant would have an “enormous destabilising impact on modern society”

Regardless, this US based animal rights NGO has proclaimed India as “one of the most exciting theaters in the world right now to watch the first stage of nonhuman animal rights jurisprudence”. Indian Animal oriented NGOs, many involved in court actions affecting policy, have received massive overseas funding including from PETA that has sent millions of USD into India including to Maneka Gandhi’s PFA. 

Post Nagaraja, Maneka Gandhi received the 6th Peter Singer award for ‘animal rights and welfare’ with ironically, the former head of the Ministry of Women and Child Development receiving the award from a man who publicly supports human infanticide.

Colonialism was once exerted under the mask of Christianity to save ‘savages’ from hell and then take over their resources, for their own good of course. The West might be losing  Christianity but the vacuum created is filling with new ideologies and believers who evangelise with missionary zeal, often exploiting the inherent goodness of people with sentiment and falsehoods.

PETA, for example is described as “by far the most successful radical organization in America”, has supported some of America’s most ‘active and prolific terrorist groups’ (according to the FBI), in the pursuit of its quasi-religious agenda to elevate animals to the consideration of humans.

Nobel winner Chinua Achebe wrote about clashes between native culture and colonial missionaries in ‘Things Fall Apart’, arguing that for a new philosophy and power to exist, the old power and religion have to be discredited. With beliefs undermined, citizens are cut off from civilisational roots and turned into empty slates to be indoctrinated in whatever new spirit of the age and the ‘missionaries’ eventually take over.

Interestingly, Animal Rights engineered cases relentlessly attack traditions including animal sacrifice, temple elephants, pilgrimage mules and attacking dietary preferences including dairy, in India.

In May 2023, a five-judge Constitutional Bench of the Supreme Court allowed Jallikattu, stating that India’s Constitution does not recognise fundamental rights for animals and upheld Jalikattu as a part of India’s cultural heritage . The judgement is a serious setback for animal rights in India and negates all High Court judgments giving ‘rights’ to animals.

Animal rights interventions aren’t oriented towards traditions alone. Heavily funded Wildlife NGOs across Africa and Asia influence policy and capture wildlife industries, pushing animal rights agendas of ‘no sustainable use’ and ‘animal liberation’ often at serious odds with genuine conservation & human rights.

In India the animal rights inspired ABC rules give unowned dogs greater rights than citizens, mandating their feeding in public no matter ‘enormous destabilising effects’ including wildlife destruction, millions mauled and children killed  and also allow vast funds released to NGOs for sterilisation, measures known to never work with free ranging dogs.

After all, as per Singer, dogs can be considered equal if not more sacred than children.

Ingrid Newkirk, PETA’S founder, once said “a rat is a pig is a dog is a boy” implying ‘equal’ treatment. Contrarily, George Orwell, in ‘Animal Farm’, a critique of communist authoritarianism aptly wrote “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.”, a proclamation from the pigs, who have power over the other animals. Animal Rights activists most often come from wealthier sections of society attacking the practices and safety of the poor and powerless, leading to ‘enormous destabilising effects’, deepening the trough they themselves feed from. If animals are to be given the same consideration as humans, then of course, some humans can then be treated like animals.

Animal rights can be postulated to be not about animals per se but more about power over people and resources, ‘compassion’ the convenient mask.

PETA has filed a review petition for the Apex court to revisit its Jallikattu judgment. One wonders if the NGOs’ apparent contempt for the institution is warranted, not because they have lost for now, but perhaps because they have come so far.

Ryan Lobo is a filmmaker, writer and photographer who has developed, shot and produced more than 80 documentaries on subjects ranging from the Afghan drug trade and man eating leopards to King Cobras and Liberian Warlords. He has shot film and photo projects for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and his films have aired on the National Geographic Channel, Animal Planet, OWN and PBS among other networks. A TED speaker, Ryan Lobo has co-produced the 2011 Sundance award winning film, “The Redemption of General Butt Naked” about a Liberian warlord’s quest for forgiveness. Ryan is a published author for his novel ‘Mr. Iyer Goes to War’ , with Bloomsbury UK.

Photo Credit for 1st photo, ‘He is my innova’, to Mr Ryan Lobo.